Documents show the state of Missouri owes more than a third of a million dollars to Callaway County for housing state prisoners.

“If I lose sleep at night over budget issues, it’s not over the federal government shutdown, it’s about this,” Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism said Thursday.

The county is owed $378,270, Chism said. This is hardly a new problem, nor is it one exclusive to Callaway County. Chism said the subject of slow payments comes up at every sheriff’s conference he attends. In October 2017, neighboring Boone County was owed $531,471.98 and Cole County, $89,847.84.

“It’s really detrimental to the poorer counties,” Chism said. “We’re so accustomed to this that we budget as if we weren’t expecting to receive the reimbursement.”

This time last year, Callaway County was due about $135,000. Across the state, counties are currently owed about $20 million, according to Presiding County Commissioner Gary Jungermann.

Karen Pojmann, DOC communications director, could not be reached for comment.

“We’ve had this backlog with the state for several years, though the figure is high at the moment,” Chism said. “It’s usually between $150,000 and $300,000.”

To put the amount into perspective, the jail’s total budget for next year has been set, tentatively, at $1.5 million, Jungermann said.

By law, jail administrators have to keep prisoners in the same physical condition as they arrived. They are required to be monitored, taken to doctors when necessary and fed by specific standards. Prisoners in Callaway County Jail receive 2,400 calories per day. As an inmate’s case progresses through court, that inmate may remain in the county jail for more than a year before conviction transfers them to a state-run facility or they are freed.

Reimbursements from the Missouri Department of Corrections are meant to offset the cost to the county for holding those prisoners.

The cost per day to house an inmate in Callaway County’s jail is about $48. The amount of reimbursement fluctuates annually. Currently, the state is supposed to pay Callaway County $22.58 per eligible prisoner per day, barely more than the $22.50 per day paid in 1998.

As the jail administrator, Chism regularly submits bills of costs to the state for payment. Bills are especially high at the moment because the county jail is near capacity, he said. The state does pay the requested amounts eventually — but often up to eight months late, according to documentation provided by Chism.

“These reimbursements, as outlined by state law, are instrumental to funding the daily operations of our county jail,” Chism said. “When we discuss this issue with our local taxpayers, they are flabbergasted by the delays. They point out they are penalized for being one day late making a payment to the state.”

A September 2017 letter from Susan D. Pulliam, chief financial officer of the state DOC, outlined some of the reasons for the delays.

Funds are dispensed quarterly, she explained. Current funding levels and the reimbursement schedule, combined with a pre-existing backlog of approved invoices, created a delay in paying new invoices.

“They’re working from oldest to newest (invoices), but they’re also trying to make sure everyone gets some money,” Jungermann said Friday.

Counties have little to no recourse, Chism added.

“(Our senator and representatives) have all been very responsive and helpful, but the issue is just bigger than them,” he said.

Three years ago, when the amount owed to Callaway County by the state DOC was $165,000, Jungermann and two other county commissioners sent a letter of protest to then-Gov. Jay Nixon. Little has changed since then.

Jungermann said DOC Director Anne Precythe, hired to the position in 2017, put together a task force to address the payment issue. One proposed alternative for counties was to cut down on the jail population — and, thus, inmate-related expenses — by releasing certain eligible offenders with ankle monitors. The state would then offer a $12 per diem for those offenders, Jungermann said.

Jungermann and Chism both expressed doubts about whether that would be right for Callaway County.

“There’s a perception that county jails are full of misdemeanor offenders — people who stole something from Walmart or people who got caught with a joint,” Chism said. “Ours is full of felons and violent offenders. These are not offenders that I would recommend for alternative monitoring.”

The alternative monitoring program targets “nonviolent offenders,” including some types of drug-related crimes. Chism takes issue with the way the DOC defines nonviolent.

“Drugs lead to many violent offenses and are the catalyst for many types of major crime,” he said.

Jungermann agreed releasing offenders into the community would not prove popular with community members.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We can still function. We can absorb that $378,000 for a little longer period of time.”

By Helen Wilbers | Fulton Sun